Thomas Vanek is back doing some light exercise but the Buffalo Sabres' leading scorer says returning in 3-4 weeks from his fractured jaw may be an overly optimistic timetable.
"I hope that I haven't lost too much of my fitness but we'll see about that once I start skating again," Vanek wrote in a diary entry posted on his official Web site for fans in his native Austria. "The doctors said that I would miss at least four weeks altogether but it also could be five to six weeks. We'll just have to wait and see."
Whenever he returns, Vanek said he'll have to wear a full face shield with his helmet to prevent another blow to the jaw. The braces on his jaw are scheduled to be in place for at least another month.
Vanek was injured Feb. 7 in Ottawa when he was struck in the face by a slap shot from Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov. Tonight's game in Philadelphia will be Vanek's fifth straight out of the lineup; he had played 225 straight games until the injury and the only previous game he had missed in his NHL career came as a healthy scratch in 2006.
Vanek was examined when the Sabres returned home Feb. 8 and had surgery that day to have the fracture fixed and his jaw was wired shut. He wrote that he stayed overnight in a hospital (neither Vanek nor the Sabres have said which facility he was treated at) before returning home to start his liquid diet.
"It was immediately clear that I had to have surgery because it was a very complicated fracture," Vanek wrote.
Vanek said he's returned to HSBC Arena this week to ride an exercise bike and has had his sutures removed ("Don't even start to ask me how many but there were quite a lot.") Next week, his jaw braces will be loosened to get him off the liquid diet.
That should allow him back on the ice for light skating on his own. Then it will be at least two more weeks before he can play.
The Sabres won't run into ex-captain Daniel Briere tonight as he's still on the mend from his second abdominal surgery of the season. Briere has played just nine games this year for the Flyers, tallying five goals and four assists, and has been sidelined since Dec. 2.
Briere is skating and hopes to return next week, perhaps as soon as Tuesday against Los Angeles.
The other ex-Sabre in the Flyers' lineup, Martin Biron, will start in goal tonight. He made 40 saves to shut out the Sabres, 3-0, in the teams' only previous meeting, Nov. 21 in HSBC Arena. Biron is 17-11-5 this season with a 2.87 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff on the struggles of twice-demoted rookie Nathan Gerbe, who was sent back to the AHL Wednesday with no goals in 10 games: "I really thought near the end he really started to press. Even in the meeting we had with him, he was really concerned he wasn't putting up numbers.
"On the power play, he tried a couple things that weren't really in our playbook. It's just the fact he wants so desperately to put some numbers up. His effort was good, his enthusiasm in the game was great. It will just take a little time."
Ruff said Paul Gaustad will initially start on the wing tonight in his return, taking Gerbe's spot with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford.
Maxim Afinogenov (groin/hip) and Henrik Tallinder (shoulder) are practicing fully and close to returning. Ruff said Tallinder's return in particular will force a tough decision with the lineup on defense but that the Sabres would not put Tallinder back on the ice if he's only at 90 percent efficiency.
"We want to make sure with his injury," Ruff said. "He's going to do a lot of battle stuff in practice and we're going to get him tested a lot."